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I'm pretty good in the writing department as far as prose, it's just that I'll sit down and have no idea what to write. Perhaps it's a creative problem, I just don't know. I cannot figure out any plot whatsoever. Specifically, for me, I like to read science fiction, so my goal is to come up creative science fiction plots. That seems impossible to me because, no matter how hard I try, I always end up conforming to some dumb cliche. How do you guys do it?


P.S. Why am I asking? Well, I read a book called Snow Crash recently by Neal Stephenson, and I decided I was going to write a novel/story/whatever that was a humorous cyberpunk themed kinda thing. But everything I think of just seems so cliche!

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People don't 'think of creative plots,' they think of plots creatively, or rather, they just think, and happen to come up with great plots. In short, 'everything I think of just seems so cliche' -- this is just because you are aiming at being creative, which is the reverse of the above process. – Kris Dec 30 '11 at 8:54
See this related question, this related question, and this related question. Also see this on some perspectives on how to start. – justkt Dec 30 '11 at 13:32
Then see this question for places to find prompts to get your mind working. This question talks about how to go from idea to story. In addition to answers to this question, those should all help. – justkt Dec 30 '11 at 13:34
Please keep in mind that this question is not a good example of an answerable question for this site. We're not closing it at this time because it's an older question that also may be of interest to the community. – Neil Fein Oct 22 '12 at 16:44
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Don't be afraid of using cliche plots. Plots are all cliche. Think of architecture: for the most part, buildings all follow the same general rules. That's because these rules are necessary for the building to be structurally sound.

Plot is much the same. A standard frame with which you hang all the unique flourishes and twists that will set your work apart from the rest.

Some books on plot that have helped me tremendously:

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thank you very much for the help – m4tt Dec 30 '11 at 21:33
No problem! I've struggled with the exact same issues it sounds like you are having. But these books have helped me a lot. – oldrobotsneverrust Dec 31 '11 at 18:30
I came up with a pretty good idea, backstory, for the plot, posited as a what-if: what if corporations bought stock of people? the main character would be one of such people. I figured that the plot would have something to do with the implications of such a misfortune. The problem is, I can't figure out what the impact of buying stock of a person would be, specifically on the person. can you guys help? – m4tt Jan 1 '12 at 0:24
do you think the backstory is strong enough for a novel? – m4tt Jan 1 '12 at 0:25
I don't recommend story Engineering, and I'm an Architect when it comes to writing. I have a few friends who are the 'Gardener' type and Story Engineering didn't work for them either. Writing is as much about finding your own process as it is about learning from others. I'd suggest going to Barnes & Noble to read a bit to find out if it is your cup of tea. An even better idea is to use The Snowflake Method, consult TvTropes to find similar plot ideas, and then sit down and ask yourself, how can I make my narrative different? – James F. Oct 24 '12 at 1:47

When you say you suck at plots, you may be looking at the wrong level. Everyone sucks at it to start with. I suspect that a plot never comes fully formed to anyone. You have to tease it out. You have to play with the tools of writing. I am currently reading Story Engineering and loving it (long as you skim over the first 50 pages of sales pitch.) He talks about the six core competencies of writing fiction. I've heard good things about all four books oldrobotsneverrust suggested. Just because a good writer makes it look easy, doesn't mean that writing fiction is easy. Takes work.

But shy of reading a whole book, you might try what Stephen King does (and me) and talks about in On Writing. He starts with a few characters and the concept question, a what-if question. What if a regular kid found proof of alien visitations? And what if his most trusted punker friend wants to steel it from him and destroy it for no apparent reason? OR: What if punker geek met a pretty preppy girl who just happened to have more info about conspiracies than he did? How would his attraction move the story forward? What if two punker's competed on some trivial task, and what the winner created turned out to be of galactic significance?

This is referred to as a panster, writing by the seat of your pants, and is considered by most to be very hard, unless you are Stephen King. But for me, learning to create good concepts was a powerful exercise. Never mind what they do when they meet. Just put them in a room and see what they do. Tease out the inciting incident that launches the journey of the story. Create interesting characters and let them tell you where they want to go. Just put them in interesting situations.

As for whether a plot is a cliche, I agree with @oldrobotsneverrust. Don't worry about it. If you characters are rich in depth, inner demons and complexity, it won't matter if the plot has been done a dozen times. So just start creating lots of concepts and ask people if they would want to read such a book. Or start to look for the concept in books you've read, so you get good at understanding what a concept looks like. You might even start with writing short stories, rather than the daunting task of writing a book first.

Another exercise I created was fictionalized reality. Start to notice when some trivial event happened in your life, one that happens to feel more rich with detail that most events. Write it up with all the texture of a novel, learning to add setup, backstory and voice. Like this: "He sat at the computer answering yet another question on the writers board, still irritated at that last BSOD crash. His desk was littered with scraps of do-lists and scattered index cards from his recent novel project. He had no time for such attempts to help, when his own novel had fallen so far behind. Maybe he'd never finish it. Maybe it was true what they say. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

"But he couldn't just quit. He'd just made a brilliant point, one that needed follow up. One last thing and that would nail it. He needed to do this. He needed to be helpful.

"He turned to look out his apartment window, looking onto the deserted church parking lot. The service seemed to have ended early. No, wait. It was the 4 p.m. service and the time was now approaching 6 p.m. Ali would be waiting for him, complete unwilling to press play on the DVR before he got there for their ritual viewing of Warehouse Thirteen."

See. Just learn to capture the voice, and remember to add more texture like colors, sensations of the wood, smells, anything to make it more rich than it is. Just remember, that the reader will cut out half or more of the details you add. So add at least twice what you need. Hope it helps.

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I wish I could just write something, it seems like it would be more fun that way (like reading a book, but writing it), but alas, no, I can't. Thanks for helping. – m4tt Jan 3 '12 at 23:13
Just a nit - you spelled "pantser" wrong. I wouldn't even bother telling you but SE won't let me make a 2-letter edit. – Mark Beadles Jan 28 '12 at 15:35

I find that using dreams often leads to creative plots, if you reset the dream in another location and change some of the events to fit your genre.

Also, collaborate with your friends and family on your ideas, many of the stories I've written have come from discussions I have had with friends from my creative writing group.

I hope that helps :D

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The best beginners book for plotting I've read is 'My Story Can Beat Up Your Story' by Jeffery Alan Schecter. He shows a method - exactly beat-by-beat - for building a plot that'll work for pretty much every type of story, and he uses Star wars to demonstrate his example. It's more than just plot though, he talks about characters, relationships, arcs and a lot of other stuff and how it all feeds your plot. It's really very good if you're struggling.

If you want to know specifically how to find ideas for stories and building a sci-fi plot then I suggest you wait till April 2013 and buy my book! It's called 'Writing The Science Fiction Film' and it's published by Michael Wiese Publishing.

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